The Pod

The world's financial situation has declined rapidly. Entire countries have descended into chaos. And the only thing anyone's thinking about is when their pay check's coming through. Except the adolescent boy and his war-widowed mother living in a shabby London flat. Shade and Coral Ashton know what's coming, more than the wealth-robbed people of the upper class. They're expecting the nuclear events. The screams. The bodies. The unrecognisable ruins of your own home. Because, when it's World War Three and you've never had a penny to think about, thoughts can be both dangerous and useful.

Unfortunately, foresight isn't the perfect assistant in a world polluted to the brim. Soon, life without some disgusting mutation is scarce. Until Shade finds the fabled pod. A reinforced dome that houses a community of survivors. Is it the haven it seems to be? Or will an escape from the outside prove to have its own dangers?

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1. Prologue

Friday 13th September 2013

 

Ironic.

That was the only way to describe it. Shattered pieces of a coffee mug were still scattered across the floor, its brown contents already soaking into the frayed carpet. Words and pictures continued to flash across the television screen but Shade didn't pay them any attention. His eyes were focused on the woman who stood before him, whose hands were shuddering in front of her ribcage while every other limb remained still. Frozen. Frozen by the six o'clock news.

 

"Mum?" The boy attempted to reach out to his mother, but the lack of reply dragged the room into a deathly silence. "Mum, are you alright?"

"Go to bed, Shade," she told him, finally. Her voice was thick as she turned to look at him over her shoulder. The blue of her irises could barely be seen beneath her widening pupils, as she fought to retain control of her body. "And stay there."

"Mum, no, what if-"

"If we're raided or taken captive or, perhaps, the world ends?" She shot back, her tone soft despite the message behind it. "Honey, it's already happening. The debates were just the start of the fight."

"It's London, there are debates all the time." Shade rolled his eyes. It was true - the protests over finances had slowly escalated into violent riots.

"Not like that, they don't. Not when governments have gone bankrupt and ours is going the same way." A woeful expression took hold of her features. "Just go to your room."

"Fine, I'll go to my room. I'll go to my room while you daydream, half the world is broke and the other half blows itself to kingdom come!" His arms flailed in exasperation as he paced a few steps backwards. Shade assured himself that he couldn't locate the source of his new-found frustration with her (he knew it was a lie). Something within him had urged him to apologise but she'd already begun to speak again, raising her voice so it carried over the distance.

"I know you're confused, I know you're angry. Your father always reacted the same way when he knew there was a fight coming - I guess that's why he was such a brute-force soldier. And it got him killed," she paused and perched on the edge of the sofa. "There'll be robberies soon and I don't want you to get hurt. Go to bed and at least try to sleep. If people could survive a world war decades ago, they can survive now."

 

Just as he was about to sprout a counter argument, the woman opened her mouth again.

"You're one and the same, you two, even if you're just seventeen. Just hold your breath and everything will be rosy. I love you both but it doesn't happen that way. Someone has to start acting with some sense around here - go. And, if someone chases you, run."

"But..." Shade narrowed his lids, wondering what force had suddenly ignited such courage in her. Then he realised he couldn't argue. But, even when he turned tail and padded off down the cramped corridor of the flat, he still doubted her words on survival - and her faith in them. Shade's father was a rare subject, mentioned only when one of them was desperate enough to use him as a motivator.

 

He swung the door to his bedroom open, flinging it closed the moment he'd stepped over the threshold. A clunk sounded from beside his bed - a photo frame had fallen forwards onto the wooden surface of the bedside table. Reaching out to prop it back up, he stopped to look at the photo. Him, his mother and his father standing outside of Buckingham Palace. A bright smile was shining from the young boy that clutched to his parents.

"Now we can't afford a visit to the cafe, let alone a bloody palace," Shade grumbled. "I guess the same goes for the rest of the world, now, eh Dad? Do you agree with Mum? I know you pretended to sometimes - but, this time, it's World War Three Dad."

When his father didn't reply, Shade sighed and turned away from the photograph to face the grimy white walls that surrounded him, complemented by a deep red carpet.

 

-

 

Coral scrubbed at the stain on the carpet, nervous jitters fuelling her work ethic. In a soothing notion, her mind conjured up an image of the tall man that had once filled her entire being. He stood over her with a gushing smile and an outstretched hand. Emerald eyes that she recognised every day in her own child's face: rich, glistening and a painful reminder. He was frowning at her, telling her that she should know better than to mope around on his watch. For a figment of her imagination, he was certainly insistent. So she stood; he told her that she would be better off the moment she picked herself up off the ground (in more than one way) and he always had been perceptive.

"Coral, you have to promise me something," he implored her. "You have to keep Shade safe. For me."

"Joe, you know I can't." Her eyes became wide once again. "I can't even keep myself safe."

"No, you're right, you can't," he conceded. Light radiated from his skin, holding her attention hostage. Her eyes were transfixed on him. But not the group of men and women that signalled the first wave of desperation in the financial world war. Not the black-clad robbers stalking up the stairs to their floor. Not the gunmen waiting by the car at the ground floor. "But he can."

 

-

 

The bed springs let out a displeased whine and the mattress scraped the metal frame, producing a ghastly note. Shade clamped his hands over his ears and scowled. His eyes snapped shut as the sound melted into another, foreign and sharper. The sound of a thousand shards crashing down to the ground. And, then, the most ear-splitting of sounds - a woman's scream.

"Mum." He breathed. He leapt to his feet and darted out to the corridor. Cracking the living room door open, he caught sight of his mother, surrounded by a group of people with guns. He inched forward, convinced he had the best way to catch them off-guard, but Coral shook her head.

"Go," she mouthed as she inclined her head towards the corridor behind him. "Climb. Run."

 

If she could save him, she wouldn't be breaking her promise to his father (albeit a hallucinated version of him). It had nothing to do with her remaining alive. Shade lingered for a movement - a grunt and a thud signalled that the neighbours had reached a similar fate - before he crouched low and slowly made his way towards the front door. That was, until the familiar thud of footsteps made him scramble for the nearest room. The bathroom. When he made it inside, he straightened up again and pressed himself against the door.

 

"Where do you think the kid is?" A voice floated down the hallway. Shade sucked in a breath.

"Who cares?" Despite one man's disinterest, somehow, he wasn't quite convinced that he was out of the woods yet.

"I care. No guarantees he's an easy target."

"Okay. Your turn first - guess where he i-" The man's speech was cut short as Shade found his foot dragged away by a patch of water. Before he could restrain it, a yell was ripped from his vocal chords. Both men came to a halt, exchanged wary glances and turned to the closed bathroom door. The adolescent slipped and slid back to his feet, scanning the room for an escape. And his eyes came to rest on the window, just as the door swung open. His pulse quickened, heart thundering against his ribcage. The men stood in the doorway seemed to tower over him in denial of his naturally tall demeanour.

 

"Thought you could run, did you?" The bulkier man, who'd been the one adamant that they searched for him, advanced upon his position. The window was directly behind her, the ledge jabbing away at his back. He could feel the evening air nibble at the hairs at the back of his neck.

"I can run, you'll see." He smirked, betraying his intentions and confusing them both within a moment. The next thing the two thieves knew, the shower head and bin were plummeting towards them. Stray sprays of water and sweet wrappers (that were tauntingly like notes - of any currency) coated them. And Shade slipped away from the chaos. He knew then - his mother hadn't believed a word she said. If anything, survival was less likely the 'next time around'.

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